The Chance Brothers and Company glassworks began producing glass in 1824 at their facility in Smethwick, West Midlands, England. Before too long, the company became known as the best glass manufacturer in Britain. In addition to producing sheet glass, Chance Brothers perfected methods of manufacturing optical glass for telescopes. In 1848, Chance Brothers began working on the manufacture of Fresnel lenses for use in lighthouses. A first-order lens was created and displayed in the Crystal Palace at London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. James Chance worked with Trinity House to adjust the lenses already in British lighthouses so that they were more efficient.
The company’s lenses were eventually used in approximately 2500 lighthouses worldwide. The lenses were all sizes, including 13 hyper-radial lenses, which were the largest ever used. Chance Brothers also became involved in the production of prefabricated cast-iron lighthouse towers. In addition, they made lanterns and other components for lightships, and clockworks used to drive the rotation of lenses in lighthouses.
The Chance Brothers factory in Smethwick was officially closed in the early 1980s. Today, the Chance Heritage Trust is working to restore the remaining buildings at the nine-acre Chance Glassworks site in Smethwick. The plan is to convert the site to a combination of residential units, educational space, a heritage center, a café, and archives facilities. Mark Davies is the co-founder and chair of the Chance Heritage Trust.
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Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org